On Papa-Nicholas Planas

icon from skete.com

St. Nicholas of Athens (Papa-Nicholas Planas) 1851-1932 glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1992

Once the chanter of the vigils, Panayiotes Tomis, asked him (St. Nicholas), “What do you think, Father, about the calendar?” And he answered him, “From conviction, the Old, and from obligation, the New!!” The chanter was dissatisfied and left. (Papa-Nicholas Planas: The Simple Shepherd of the Simple Sheep p. 10)

Of course, Papa-Nicholas’ staunch adherence to the ecclesiastical calendar soon became widely known, and because of his holiness and the popularity he enjoyed among the faithful, the New Calendar church authorities — particularly the then Archbishop of Athens Chrysostom Papadopoulos, who had been responsible for the change in the calendar — became exceedingly annoyed. How could the saintly Papa-Nicholas be lending himself to such “unhealthy elements” as the Old Calendarists? The account of the meting between Papa-Nicholas and Archbishop Papadopoulos was related to us by Bishop Germanos of Synnada… here is Bishop Germanos’ account of the encounter between Papa-Nicholas and Archbishop Chrysostom Papadopoulos:

“Papa-Nicholas grew nervous, and like a little child, became frightened when he was told some days prior to the meeting that the Archbishop wanted to see him. He kept on repeating over and over again, ‘What does he want to see me for?’ By the time he got to the Archbishop’s office, he was like a schoolchild sent to the principal’s office. Papa-Nicholas was a very meek person, and did not like confrontations. He did not like even being present at quarrels. In any case, when he entered the Archbishop’s office, the Archbishop arose and greeted him very kindly and gave him a seat. So he sat down, but he was still very nervous. With a very serious expression, the Archbishop began, ‘Papa-Nicholas, as you know, we love you and respect you greatly. However, it has come to our ears that you are an Old Calendarist, and that, contrary to the Holy Synod’s encyclical, you are celebrating the Church feasts according to the old reckoning and not according to the corrected and reformed calendar.’ Then, in his typical childlike simplicity, Papa-Nicholas answered, ‘Oh–oh–only at night, only at night!’ This reply floored the Archbishop.” (ibid. p. 106)

Fr. Alexey Young

[Papa-Nicholas] continued to serve according to the Old Calendar — even when this necessitated serving secretly at night, but he did not leave the New Calendar bishops who had enacted this unlawful change. To the “ecclesiastical politics” of his day he reacted with his characteristic patience, meekness, and with obedience wherever possible without compromising the principles of traditional Orthodoxy.

When his secret serving according to the Old Calendar was discovered he was often reprimanded by the higher authorities in the Church. He always appeared when summoned and took his dressing-down without self-justification, disarming his accusers with his childlike simplicity and forthrightness. His intent was to remain true to his conscience; he did not try to build up a following or in any way stir up the faithful over the issue of the Calendar, although he blessed others to follow his example and to work for the formal reinstatement of the Old Calendar. Over and ever he said to everyone, “Whatever has been done uncanonically cannot stand–it will fall.”

Sadly, the Calendar question was never resolved. The harsh and quite unchristian polemics that have become a hallmark of many in the Greek Old Calendar Movement since then are far removed from the behavior of Papa-Nicholas who is championed as the Movement’s founder. One cannot help but wish that his stirring example of charity had been taken more to heart by those that shared his love for the Traditions of the Church in that otherwise worthy movement.

Photios Kontoglou, the great 20th century iconographer of Greek Orthodoxy, himself a lover of the Church’s Traditions, wrote that “for Christians there does not exist a more effective teaching than reading the life of a saint–especially that of one who has lived in our own time and Who, by his own life, was manifested as a saint without fanfare.” Papa Nicholas has been described as “a living sermon.” In his life we find not only a lesson in dealing with some of the unprecedented difficulties facing the Church today, but also a criterion by which we may measure our own behavior as Orthodox Christians, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, no matter what scandals, temptations, or trials come our way. (Orthodox America: The Simple Shepherd)